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8:30AM

Lojong 42) Train in 3 Difficult Disciplines

7. Guidelines (37 – 57)

42) Train in 3 difficult disciplines.

Expansion: First, become aware when disturbing emotions arise. Later, as soon as I am aware, turn from it. Finally, take action to prevent the seed before it is sown.

This is an extremely practical Lojong saying. It is a method by which we can learn to gradually stop doing those repetitive behavior patterns that cause so much of our suffering.

The following is a common Alcoholics Anonymous “story”. I got it from “The Recovery Corner”, (click on the link to go there) which also has some of the AA slogans listed. The AA slogans serve the same purpose as the Lojong sayings (but this is material for another post.)

Here is the relevant AA story.

      I
           I walk down the street;
                There is a deep hole in the sidewalk;
                I fall in.
           I am lost ... I am helpless,
                It isn't my fault.
           It takes me forever to find a way out.

      II
           I walk down the same street;
                There is a deep hole in the sidewalk;
                I pretend I don't see it;
                I fall in again.
           I can't believe I am in the same place,
                but it isn't my fault.
           It still takes a long time to get out.

      III
           I walk down the same street;
                There is a deep hole in the sidewalk;
                I see it is there;
                I still fall in ... it's a habit.
           My eyes are open,
                I know where I am.
           It is my fault.
           I get out immediately.

      IV
           I walk down the same street,
                There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
           I walk around it.

      V
           I walk down another street.

Notice how the AA saying mirrors the content of the Lojong. This is because this is an essentially true method for changing recurrent and deeply engrained behavior patterns. You can apply this method to any problem that you recognize needs to change.

Another interesting understanding can be seen in this story and its relation to the Lojong saying. The AA concept of “it’s not my fault” / “it’s a disease” is more clearly understood, to be a process in recovery. At some point, it must change from a disease that is not my fault to a choice. The next right choice is not to use a drug today (now). The alcoholic may still have a disease, but he or she also has a choice in each moment.

Take anger as an example, if you do not recognize any addictions in your life (like drugs, sex, food, TV, shopping, ego-clinging, a dharma, etc.):

At first anger arises without my conscious awareness until after I have engaged in it and finally recognize the havoc and mayhem that has occurred. If the problems I cause are great enough, I may determine it would be better not to do these emotional and physical behaviors. On the other hand, if I am able to engage in excuse making that blinds me to reality, and others are willing to let my bad behavior slide, I will be stuck doing this same behavior over and over without awareness.

Later, I may see I have an anger problem and begin to “try” not to engage in it. A better method for trying not to engage in the behavior is to become aware as soon as possible of what is happening with me. It may be that in the beginning, I am only able to become aware as the anger is subsiding and I am watching the havoc unfold. This is still a start on the second step of “as soon as I am aware, I turn away”. This would be a good time to apologize and attempt to make some amends. (It is likely at this stage, my apology and amends will only be skeptically considered.) The goal is to move this awareness closer and closer to “the beginning”, so that I become aware as the emotion is arising. If I can become aware as the emotion is arising and before I have engaged in harmful behavior; I am close to “Right Action”.

The final step in this example, is to be fully engaged in behaviors that are the incompatible opposite of anger, revenge, havoc, mayhem, etc. These behaviors are being loving, kind, and compassionate to all sentient beings.

This same method can be applied to changing any negative habit.  Interestingly, the incompatible opposite behaviors are most often the same: be loving, kind, and compassionate to all sentient beings.

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9:05AM

Lojong 38) One method will correct all wrong.

7. Guidelines (37-57)

38) One method will correct all wrong.

This suggests there is one way we can go about achieving a more enlightened life. That method is awareness and mindfulness.

This saying is about one method, not just doing one simple thing. Often people ask what is the one thing I need to do to solve this problem. First, they are making an assumption that the problem is not multiply determined and not contextually relevant (most situations are multiply determined and contextually relevant.) There is not one thing you can do to solve every problem, but there is one method that is always a good start.

When we develop awareness and mindfulness, we create an environment in which self-directed behavior change is possible. Without this, it is impossible for us to create our own change. I don’t dispute that a living organism can be conditioned to new behavior without awareness. Contingency based learning takes place all the time. If the organism becomes aware of the contingencies, then there is an opportunity for rule-governed learning. A further discrimination comes when a person develops awareness and mindfulness, so that they can generate entirely new behaviors of their own volition.

If we understand the rules of the universe (whether we call it physics, biology, behavioral psychology, etc.), it is evident that breaking out of habitual patterns of behavior is very difficult. Some might argue that there is no real mechanism by which we can become the masters of our own fate. I argue that developing awareness and mindfulness is the only process by which we can change this “determinism” to engage in behavior based on genuine “free will”.

To the extent that I act with no awareness at all, or act based on faulty rules that automatically arise in my thoughts (without opportunity to evaluate these), I am stuck in a predetermined outcome based on my physiology and history. There is a way out. I am able to choose to act differently; when I am aware my thoughts are “just thoughts” and that I can evaluate their veracity, merits, or reality to choose to act in accordance with my Values.

I can only determine my Values through this same process of awareness and mindfulness. If my Values are “The Bible [my Daddy, my country, the preacher, etc] said it, I believe it, and that’s it”, there is no ability to develop self-efficacy. One can be mindful and come to the conclusion that the Bible, Daddy, country, etc. is a perfect match to my legitimate Values, but the process is the key difference.

Awareness and Mindfulness create the opportunity to break out of habitual patterns into living a meaningful life based on Values.

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6:40AM

Lojong 37) Do everything with one intention.

7. Guidelines (37-57)

37) Do everything with one intention.

The emphasis in this slogan is on the one intention. It makes it so much clearer when we can cut through to a core practice. The one intention is to aspire to practice as a Bodhichitta. The intention of the Bodhichitta is not to win the admiration of others, to achieve enlightenment, to release his or her own suffering, or to obtain any other result, except to simply reduce the suffering of all beings.

The Bodhichitta ideal is based on a combination of wisdom and compassion. Some people struggle with the idea that the Buddhist Dharma is selfish, since the first introduction most of us receive is based on practices that can alleviate our own suffering.

If I am not attached, doesn’t that imply some lack of concern for others? And what about “Acceptance”, doesn’t that imply that I am not concerned to change the way things are either for myself or for others? Neither of these statements are a correct understanding. Releasing attachment and achieving acceptance are about letting go of my demands that things be different than they are.

Have you every heard someone express something like “There are no accidents”? I understand this to be an acknowledgement that it is impossible for there to be situations in which the laws of the universe go astray in an aberration in which impossible things happen. Like this would be the case if gravity stopped, time and space “warped” in some mysterious way, there is no reality of the end of this mortal life, etc. There are no accidents because the laws of the universe operate whether I fully understand them or not. There is no other choice except to release my demand that things be different than they are; because no amount of my demanding will change the laws of the universe. However, I can choose to act in accordance with the laws of the universe (and Karma) to do things to the best of my ability that will reduce the suffering of others.

A correct understanding of the Buddhist Dharma is the intention to release attachment and to accept things as they are, while at the same time displaying wise compassion for all beings.

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9:26AM

Practical Dharma: Wayback Machine

I began the blog Practical Dharma in 2004. It existed at practicaldharma.com until 2007 when my agent and I overlooked the renewal of the website name. I was unsuccessful at re-obtaining practicaldharma.com, but now Practical Dharma has a new home at practicaldharma.net (and several other places on the web.) I hope the practicaldharma Twitters are helpful. For now practicaldharma (on Twitter) is posting a new Lojong saying each day.

Here are some reminisces from the original Practical Dharma.

January 27, 2004

Excerpt: (http://web.archive.org/web/20040413035240/www.practicaldharma.com/)

This is an on-line discussion forum called Practical Dharma. You may post any content you wish, but the purpose of this forum is to discuss the proposition of the book Practical Dharma: The sensible approach to peace of mind. by Patrick C. Quinn, PhD. That proposition is: there are behaviors and skills that can be learned and engaged in, which set the occasion for insight and allow one to more directly follow The Dharma. For example, Right Speech is not merely - not gossiping, not cussing, saying nice things about others, etc. Right Speech is a complex set of skills including the ability to express feelings, the ability to speak clearly, the ability to express compassionately, the ability to listen with empathy, and many more skills covered in that chapter of the book. Right Livelihood includes many skills that make work more efficient, less stressful, more productive, and so on (not just refusing to be a mercenary, hired gun, destroyer of the environment, etc.) Practical Dharma is learning these skills and applying them in daily life. The same principles of learned skills and actionable behaviors apply to the rest of the Eightfold Path.

November 15, 2004

Excerpt: (http://web.archive.org/web/20041207031803/www.practicaldharma.com/archives/000001.html)

What if I mess up

Then my blog will be totally ruined. My life which was perfect up to this time, will have one very public flaw. I better not write anything at all. Yeah, that's it I'm not going to have a blog; I'm just going to make fun of people who do. I am way too evolved to engage in this "shameless self promotion" - who did I steal that from? (Can you plagiarize on a blog or is that another oxymoron - plagiarized blog?)

More fascinating ruminations soon - check back real soon!

Posted by DrQuinn at November 15, 2004 09:35 PM

November 16, 2004

Excerpt: (http://web.archive.org/web/20041207032902/www.practicaldharma.com/archives/000002.html)

Renunciation

Practical Dharma is a philosophy to guide conduct to achieve peace of mind in the real world in which most of us choose to live. It would be much easier for me to achieve peace of mind if I could live at my favorite retreat center year round instead of working my mission as a psychologist.

This entry is also an apology in advance for the many affordances I have selected in my life. I would argue that all the things that I will show on these pages are consistent with a Practical Dharma.

The only renunciation recommended by the Practical Dharma is that of attachment, the rest will naturally follow. So it is not the things in my life that set the occasion for my suffering, but my attachment to them that does.

A colleague, (J. H., PhD) whose office is next to mine at NorthEast Psychiatric and Psychological Institute, suggested I should kick my new motorcycle over in the dealers parking lot (Ah ha). I did not take his advice, but understood it more clearly a few months later, when I loaded it for a trip to the mountains and in leaving the back yard slipped on some straw over a plastic tarp (excuses, excuses ...) and dropped it. Now that is behind me, and I no longer carry the burden of being so special as to have never dropped my bike.

And owning a cool motorcycle is not incompatible with release from attachment – it is my relationship to the thing that matters, not the thing itself. (And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Especially the next time I buy myself a new toy. I’ll be showing (whatever it is) on these pages eventually.)

Sometimes I learn from experience and sometimes I can apply the Practical Dharma philosophy alone (but experience is necessary more often than not.).

And it is clear to me that even as I continue to scale back to simpler things, I live like a god compared to people in previous times and even compared to most of the rest of the world. I try to remember the Give Away of all that have made my life possible.

Posted by DrQuinn at November 16, 2004 07:38 PM

November 18, 2004

Excerpt: (http://web.archive.org/web/20041127160121/http://www.practicaldharma.com/)

Is "W" the Anti-Christ or merely a pawn of Satan?

Arguments that he is the Anti-Christ:
1) He has convinced large numbers of people that "We must fight evil by killing and destroying, in the name of what is Right".
2) He is the proximal cause of nearly immeasurable suffering in the world.
3) He has brought the world to the brink of a devastating "Holy War"
4) How could someone produce so much evil in the world without being the Anti-Christ?

Arguments that he is merely a pawn of Satan who has sold his soul for oil money
1) His IQ is probably no greater than 105, based on his vocabulary, school performance, and general goofiness.
2) He clearly misunderstands the consequences of his actions and seems genuinely sincere even when he is saying incredibly stupid things.
3) His close advisors seem to manipulate him to their agenda.
4) He was "Born on third; thought he hit a triple."

But hey, I did my part I voted for Hindenburg (I mean Kerry.) So what else can I do about it.

The FALL 2004 (53) issue of Tricycle discusses politics from several different Buddhist persepctives.

The presidency of George W. Bush causes significant ethical, philosophical, and emotional problems for many thinking and feeling Americans (perhaps for the whole world.)

What is the Practical Dharma perspective? There are two issues (1) politics and (2) highly charged emotional issue.

As for politics, the debate is well addressed in the Tricycle article. Those points won't be labored here. However, as one might expect from a philosophy of the active and engaged world, one may choose (or choose not) to be engaged in politics in a way that is perfectly consistent with the Practical Dharma.

Highly charged emotional issues are relevant to the Practical Dharma because of how often these come up, the great opportunity these provide for insight, personal growth, etc., and the huge potential these have to rob a person of Peace of Mind.

Posted by DrQuinn at November 18, 2004 10:59 PM

November 27, 2004

Excerpt: (http://web.archive.org/web/20041204111858/www.practicaldharma.com/)

Highly Charged Emotional Issues

This is a really brief discussion, because this topic is pretty big (whoa, that's an understatement!)

If I have an emotional reaction that is extreme, the emotional reaction is caused by my own issue - not the initial stimulus for the reaction. An emotional reaction that is not extreme is one that occurs immediately, is only about the stimulus, and lasts only as long as is commensurate with the intensity of the event. "Caused by my own issues" means the reaction is to something I am not fully aware of about myself. Some psychologists call this "Shadow".

If I am merely informed (about another person or situation) by what occurred, it is unlikely I have shadow material of which I am unaware. If I have an extreme reaction, it is probably not merely about the person or situation - it is really about me.

Here is an example of a person who does not have an extreme emotional reaction to "lies". If he hears a lie, he merely stores this information about the person who stated it, such as "Oh, X may be confused, mistaken, or not trustworthy; I better check this out with more information."

Here is an example of a person who has an extreme emotional reaction to "LIES!". If he hears a lie, he becomes enraged at the "F***ing Liar" and says to himself "I can't believe he did that TO me!", "I can't stand a liar", and other stuff like this. What is this about? There are so many possibilities it's impossible to discuss even the tip of the iceberg here. We can be sure however, it is about the person hearing the "lie" and not about the person who said "something".

But here are a few examples, and I will use myself as the subject: (1) Could it be the extreme reaction is because I an not being honest in some important area of my own life?; (2) Could it be because someone else close to me is not being honest with me and I'm afraid?; or here is an extreme example, (3) Could it be as a child I was forced to lie about the way it was at home to protect an abuser?

The technique of Practical Dharma that is relevant to releasing this suffering and obtaining insight at the same time is called "Meditation on Thoughts and Feelings". It's covered in the chapter on Meditation.

Posted by DrQuinn at November 27, 2004 09:00 AM

February 11, 2007

Sadly, the day of the last post to the original Practical Dharma. Here is a link to see all the Practical Dharma posts up to that point.

http://web.archive.org/web/20070516124111/http://www.practicaldharma.com/

Someone else, I could never discover who, purchased the domain name practicaldharma.com (Here is what it looks like after that:

http://web.archive.org/web/20070808171427/http://www.practicaldharma.com/ (So far, it has never had any real content.

The biggest inconvenience was the loss of all of my e-mail and e-mail address accounts.

Each obstacle is an opportunity for growth.

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10:27AM

Lojong 31) Do not strike at weakness (Don't criticize belief, love, trust, etc.)

6. Commitments (21-36)

31) Do not strike at weakness (Don't criticize belief, love, trust, etc.)

I posted this Lojong as a Twitter a few days ago and ever since then it has been returning to me for contemplation. My assessment is that I need to pay more attention to this slogan.

We all have different tendencies, weaknesses, and blind spots. I believe I have been striking at belief. I appreciate the rational analysis of Buddhism, but just as important is a commitment to compassionate action. I can rationally analyze this, but it is also simply a belief I hold. Just as I have many beliefs, and others may hold all sorts of beliefs. I hope to remember Lojong #2 about all of these things.

Belief is a crucial component in many spirtual practices. (Duh....) But actually, I have many connections to spiritual experiences in which I am not commited to belief. I experience Chi, Chakras, Tantra, mystery of the Higher Power, etc., but I still am mostly in an "it was as if ..." when I later recall what happened. The universe is so vast and my understanding so feeble, I can only remain open to "that could be so, and I will never know for sure."  And hopefully, with a genuine attitude of respect and awe.

But back to the point of this Lojong: I judge that I have been overly insistant that others engage in the same rational analysis that I prefer or else I judge them to be lacking in insight or having a barrier to enlightenment.

It is merely my preference that we all acknowledge when these beliefs are ... well, beliefs. (And the same is true for me about judgments; my preference is that we all admit when "it" is a judgment.) As soon as that happens, I am more likely to be "disarmed" of my judgments about their position, statements, etc. My goal is to reach this point of being disarmed without requiring anything of the other. It is not necessary that others meet my expectations in any way.  And others "deserve" my compassion without conditions.

My interpretation of this slogan is that it equally applies to love, trust, faith, and all of the other things that are not measured so easily (even with my best behavior analysis techniques!)

I intend to allow others to enjoy their beliefs, love, trust, etc., just as I enjoy mine.

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